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Course turf turns tournament ready

Before golfers can tee off in the Viking Classic set for Sept. 27 -Oct. 3, more than two dozen other people have to do a very important job.

Those in charge of making sure Annandale, the host course of the tournament, is in top playing condition put in long hours in the days and hours before each Classic.

Course superintendent Al Osteen said the course is kept in “tournament condition” year-round, but around tournament time, the maintenance schedule increases substantially.

“Typically we do it in a steady, weekly routine,”Osteen said. “When the tournament gets here, we’ll sometimes work from 4:30 a.m. and we’ll go home at 9:30 p.m.”

Osteen and his assistants Scott Kuhn and Ken Hayman, all graduates of Mississippi State University’s Turfgrass Science school oversee the maintenance work performed by around 25 workers and volunteers.

This work includes mowing greens, treating the grass and raking bunkers so they meet the standards of PGA Tour officials once the tournament comes around.

“We’ll get in and mow everything that we possibly can every morning before they tee off at 7 a.m.,” Osteen said. “We’ll have every single bunker raked on the spot in less than three hours.”

Annandale is one of the more popular courses among golfers because of its design and maintenance, Annandale General Manager, Director of Golf and Golf Pro Stephen Christopher said.

“The course is firm and fast,” he said. “The golfers will get a lot of roll of their drivers … the rough is moderate right now and as of tournament week we wont mow it at all.”

The course, which opened in 1981, was designed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus and was one of the first four courses he designed.

It has been renovated a number of times throughout the years, with the most recent renovation coming in 2006. For the most part, the course has maintained its original design.

“One of the things that’s most appealing to professionals is that they enjoy playing on courses from this era of design,” Osteen said. “So many courses they play nowadays have incredible amounts of rolling terrain that have been created by bulldozers.”

Osteen said Annandale was designed with keeping its natural setting intact.

Christopher said another reason the course is so popular is because its difficulty.

“We really don’t have a weak hole on this course,” he said. “There’s a lot of good holes, and any time you let your guard down, any of these holes can reach up and grab you.”

This year’s Viking Classic features nine returning champions including 2008 winner Will MacKenzie.

Of those champions, one is a Mississippi native. Vickburg native Heath Slocum, who won the event in 2005 when it was known as the Southern Farm Bureau Classic is making his ninth appearance. Another Mississippi golfer, Greenville native, Jim Gallagher Jr., will play in the tournament for the 18th time.

Tickets are available online at www.vikingclassic. com but should be picked up at the tournament office located next to Whisper Lake Country Club. Visit the website or call (866) 898-GOLF for more details.

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